Monday, January 11, 2016

How to Choose a Summer Camp

There are many reasons why you should send your child to camp this summer.  It may be as simple as needing a good daycare option, or maybe you want your child to put down the iPad and gain some new experiences or friendships.

Campers enjoy splashing in the pond at Hale Reservation.  Photo by Eve Elizondo.

Whatever your reason, camp is a smart choice.  Summer camp has been proven to increase a child's sense of independence and confidence, while also enhancing social skills as children learn to explore a new environment with their peers.  In addition, camps often provide the physical exercise and outlet that children so rarely get these days.  However, with over 12,000 summer camps across the country, how do you know which camp to choose?  Here are a few things to think about when deciding which camp is right for your child.


Begin by asking yourself a few basic questions like:
  • Do I want a rustic, outdoor camp with trekking and exploration of nature?
  • Do I want something indoors with a clean, polished campus feel? 
  • Am I ready for my child to spend the night away for a week or two at a residential camp?
  • Do I want to hear about the day camp experience each night at the dinner table? 
After deciding on a type of program, consider a few more questions about activities, staff, and whether the camp is licensed and accredited.


Ask yourself why you are sending your child to camp.  Do you want your child to have a traditional camp experience, or do you want your child to be the next Serena Williams or David Beckham?  Do you want your son to come home having learned how to swim or make a layup?  Do you want your daughter to explore an artistic side, or learn about robotics?

In the wide world of camp, there are both specialty camps which can help your child develop a skill, and traditional camps which offer a more well-rounded summer experience.  Either way, your child will be stepping out from under your umbrella and experiencing something on his or her own.

This is how to play Gaga Ball.  Photo by Eve Elizondo.


You would not leave your child with the bagger at the grocery store without a thorough background check.  Camp should be no different.  Make sure that the camp you choose completes a criminal background check on all of their employees before they begin working.  Find out what certifications the counselors and instructors have.  All staff at camp should be at least CPR and First Aid certified.

Ask about staff to camper ratios.  If your child is in a very large group overseen by one staffer, it could be time to find another camp.  In general, the younger the campers are, the more supervision they should have.  A quality camp will make sure that your child is supervised by qualified, attentive staffers who will not be distracted by too many other children.

For a day camp, transportation is a very important component that you will probably have to deal with every day.  Find out what are the pick-up and drop-off times and where are the bus stops.   Ask the camp if it offers transportation.  You may need to pay extra for transportation, or some camps will provide transportation free of charge.  In the end, you need to figure out how much your time is worth.  The last thing you want is to be late for work because of the wait in line to drop off your child.

Campers take a break on a long hike.  Photo by Eve Elizondo.


The camp that you choose should at the very least be licensed, meaning that the town or state is verifying that the staff is qualified to watch children, and that the camp is a safe place.

If you want to make sure the camp has been evaluated by experts in the field, choose a camp that is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA).  This guarantees that the camp is held to high standards.  The staff of an ACA camp will be trained for a minimum of 40 hours, compared to other camps that may have little to no training requirement.  All camp staffers are certified.  The staff to camper ratios will be reasonable and ACA camps are visited regularly by ACA officials.

You have already made the first, hard decision just by choosing to send your child to camp.  Now, it's time to figure out which camp is the best fit for you and your family, and then watch your child bloom.

About the Author
Shannon Obey has been the Director of Membership and Events at Hale Reservation for the past four years.  Hale offers a wide variety of summer camp experiences from Traditional Camp to Specialty Camps, and a Family Membership Program.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Parent Talk's 4th Annual Summer Camp Fair will be held Tuesday, January 26, 2016, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Newman Elementary School Cafeteria.  With representatives of 40 camps expected (including Hale Day Camp, Exxcell Gymnastics & Climbing, LINX Camps, Nobles Day Camp, and Summer at Tobin Beaudet) and available to answer your questions, there is a good chance that your family will find a perfect fit.  All attendees will have a chance to win prizes, including camp certificates and one week of free LINX Camps.  Parent Talk members attend for free; nonmembers pay $10.  Advance registration is not required.  The snow date is February 2, 2016.

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